Onto the things I did see, do and learn in Mumbai and Goa.
- I learnt that there are around 18 million people living in Mumbai and people tell you that between 50 and 60 per cent live in slums. There’s no cash to maintain the outsides of buildings, so they are grey/brown/black and look like they could crumble at any time. Inside, however, I’m told they can be gorgeous.
- I visited the very famous Dhobi Ghat, a massive open-air laundry, near Mahalaxmi Station. Here, men do the washing of the wealthy of Mumbai and the hotels, apparently. For about 20 rupees (about three rand) a piece, they’ll wash clothes in what looks like very grimy water indeed, dry and iron them in an hour. The men do this work as it’s regarded as improper for a woman to do washing for work, according to our tour guide. It’s OK for women to wash for their families, of course.
- I visited the Kanheri Caves, a series of more than 100 caves carved by Buddhists from the first century BCE until the ninth century CE. The highlight was watching our golden-voiced guide pray before Buddha in one of the caves specially designed to provide the most magnificently powerful sound. Suppose his praying and then demanding we pay him for the privilege of watching him is an irony that escaped him.
- I watched a cat steal a Bombay Duck, which is actually a skinny, smelly fish and not a duck at all. The cat managed to lick a few of them before finally making off with his/her treasure. Needless to say, I decided not to try it. Apparently it’s too smelly for most restaurants to cook, anyway.
- I haggled but still got ripped off. I haggled with taxi drivers, guides, peddlers, shopkeepers and very nearly with the money exchange place and even airport staff – I managed to stop myself with the latter two categories of swindlers.
- I learnt that there are dozens of ‘official’ languages in India, including a state-specific language for each state. Sadly, I can speak not even a bit of any of them, apart from ‘thank you’ in Hindi, which no shopkeepers seemed to appreciate. Apparently an extremely endearing and charming way of nodding one’s head passes for affirmation in India. I truly did enjoy that, I must say.
- I learnt that men are basically the only gender that do any work among the working and middle-ish classes. Almost all of the shopkeepers, tour guides, taxi drivers, waiters, hotel staff and Dhobis were all men. I came across one woman when I bought fruit from her in Goa, and I can honestly say it was my most pleasant experience with a shopkeeper during my entire trip – perhaps it was because she shoved a custard apple in my hand for me to try without demanding anything in return. Needless to say, we bought fruit from her.
- I found that taxi drivers usually have some religious iconography displayed on their dashboards. I’d assume they pray that they don’t die or kill their passengers when doing what can be loosely termed ‘driving’.
- I discovered that I’ve never met anyone more determined to make a sale than the Indian salesperson. During one morning out in Goa, my friend M decided she needed a bikini. When she told the shopkeeper that the one he wished to sell her was too expensive, he argued that it was ‘good quality’. She rather facetiously announced that she wanted a ‘bad-quality’ bikini. Without blinking, the shopkeeper said he had plenty of ‘bad-quality’ items, and dug into a pile of swimming costumes less perused. M left with a bad-quality cozzie, which looked remarkably like everything else in the shop, and which lasted at least for the duration of the Goa trip – what more could she have asked for?
- I saw that the poverty in Mumbai is fearsome – it is assaulting and unavoidable. Generations of five-year olds are learning not to accept the word ‘no’ form anyone, which is almost more terrifying than what growing up poor in Mumbai must mean for one’s chances of a tolerable life. It is a mad, manic place which is quite unreal and I think would be unbearable for more than a short while. Fortunately, I was there only a short while, so I was allowed to love and treasure the experience. An absolutely astonishing 10 days – I wish I could do them over again.
Enjoy the pics and the brief descriptions.